Fair Districts PA promotes eliminating gerrymandering

Fair District Centre County Outreach Coordinator Andrea Harman discusses how to “Solve Pennsylvania’s Gerrymandering Problem” Monday at Foxdale Village.
Fair District Centre County Outreach Coordinator Andrea Harman discusses how to “Solve Pennsylvania’s Gerrymandering Problem” Monday at Foxdale Village. psheehan@centredaily.com

In a polarized political climate, finding nonpartisan issues isn’t always easy.

But for Fair Districts PA, doing away with gerrymandering is just that: nonpartisan.

Gerrymandering is drawing legislative and congressional districts in a way that favors one party or group.

On Monday, Foxdale Village hosted “How to Solve Pennsylvania’s Gerrymandering Problem,” which was presented by Fair Districts Centre County Outreach Coordinator Andrea Harman.

Fair Districts PA is a nonpartisan coalition that supports an independent commission to ensure fair districting.

Everything in politics has been moving to the edges of left and right, and part of the reason for that is gerrymandering, Harman said.

Two pieces of legislation, Senate Bill 22 and House Bill 722, have been introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature to reform the district lines are drawn, calling for a commission comprised solely of independent citizens.

The next round of redistricting is triggered in 2020.

The Electoral Integrity Project, an independent academic project based at Harvard University and the University of Sydney, gave Pennsylvania a score of 56 out 100 (based on 11 stages in the electoral cycle). It is tied for fifth-worst in electoral integrity in the United States, ahead of only Oklahoma, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Arizona.

Harman discussed three types of gerrymandering: “sweetheart,” where incumbents protect both sides; “cracking,” splitting up a population among several districts to make them an irrelevant minority; and “packing,” creating majorities that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

It’s not a Democrat or Republican issue, she said, adding that both parties do it when they’re in power.

“This is a serious problem,” she said.

The lines are drawn now in Pennsylvania by a five-person commission — the four party leaders and a fifth person who usually has to be chosen by the state Supreme Court, Harman said.

Gerrymandering allows legislators to pick their voters, not the other way around, she said. It also dilutes votes and distorts results.

“Even if I don’t agree with you, I still want your vote to count, sort of,” she said, laughing.

To change the way the lines are drawn in Pennsylvania would require a constitutional amendment.

For that to happen, it would require passage of legislation in both the state House and Senate before July 2018 and then again early in the 2019-20 legislative session. Then there would be a public referendum in 2020.

Harman said Fair Districts PA’s priorities include establishing an independent 11-person redistricting commission, making the process transparent with public participation, having a strict timeline for completion and addressing other causes of districting unfairness (like undisclosed outside money).

Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619, @SarahRafacz